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  • Writer's picturePeter

Power from The Sun

The story of our solar panel is surprisingly long and complex – you would not think that something so simple could be so difficult, but I will spare you the details and keep my story short and focus on the main points of interest.

Our objective is to be as independent as possible from the electricity in the marinas so that we can happily sit at anchor for days on end, basking in the warm sunshine, without running our batteries to the ground. This way we can enjoy cool beers, fresh food and still meet the needs of our "hungry for power" iPhones, iPad computers and ships electrical systems (everything in order of priority).

To do this we need a good solar panel – and after much research we opted for the latest bi-facial type that can produce 415 watts of electricity (2m x 1m), powered from the sun above and the reflection from the water below. In 6 months time I will be able to tell you if this was a good choice or not, but first the purchase and installation story.

To mount the panel, we need an arch on which to place it (excluding solar panel and installation costs):

Company #1: “No problem, €5,000 is all you need to pay us and we can start".

Us: “Thank you but no, you have to be kidding”.

Company #2: “No problem, but we are quite busy, maybe we can do it in the summer time ?”

Us: “Thank you but no, you have to be kidding”.

Company #3: “No problem, we can do anything, but we don’t have any equipment to weld

stainless steel. If you buy the welding equipment and material for us, then we will do it.”

Us: “Thank you but no, you have to be kidding”.

So we decided to design it ourselves as an extension to our davits (support for the dinghy at the back of the boat). Here we would build a platform onto the extended davits and assemble it all together – easy !

Tubes to extend; 50mm diameter by 3mm wall thickness, made from 316 marine steel required – but no such pipe can be found in mainland Europe. In the UK a non-polished tube was available, but they did not have the “experience” of an export out of Brexit UK to Europe – we worried about long delivery delays.

The only other option was air freight from Australia to Brest !

Surprisingly, this actually worked well with an on-time delivery to the fabrication workshop. Now the workshop is ready to build our structure.

What could be easier than ordering a solar pane as these manufactured by LG and are made here in France.

Company #1: “No problem, minimum order 4 pieces”

Us: “Thank you but no, you have to be kidding”.

Company #2: “No thanks, we do not sell to people”

Us: “You have to be kidding”.

Company #3 “We do not sell to the Marine Industry and we do not sell to people

Us: “You have to be kidding”.

Company #4 – LG The manufacturer; online request through their web site

But no response.

A phone call: “No problem, just make your request on line on our web site. What it did not

work ? Let me take your details and we will get back to you.”

4 weeks later: “We are still waiting for a response” Don't the French want to sell ??

Company #5 Supplier from the Netherlands; no problem, I can sell you one, but I can’t

be bothered to organise the transport, you will have to do this yourself.”

Us: “(very desperate by now): Yes please, we will buy and organise the transport

ourselves !

Well, needless to say the transport was a bit of a nightmare in itself, but we made it in the end with everything delivered to the fabrication shop without any tracking or support from the transportation company. On delivery, our impression was that the solar panel was very big, actually we thought it may be too big ! We agonised over the aesthetics, what height to place it and how far back from the back of the boat.

Our plan is also to install a wind driven steering device called a Wind Vane. There needed to be sufficient space for 2 items to live side by side without interfering with each other. With some calls back and forth to Vancouver (designers of the Hydrovane) the correct position of the solar panel was fixed for compatibility. Our question was "would it still look good ?"

Meanwhile the fabrication workshop was getting very busy and the priority of our little item seemed to be slipping. Begging for a finish date before Easter was the best that we could hope for and so I cycled daily to check on progress. As Good Friday came, things were moving forwards and

everything seemed to be ready for delivery.

We were happy when owner Thierry called to say "I am here at the Marina office". With the assistance of 2 other couples from nearby boats, the construction and solar panel was brought to the boat and manhandled into position. It just happened to be a very windy day with 25 knot winds (50 km/hr) making the handing of a 2m x 1m panel a little difficult.

Placement on Good Friday was almost complete, but there still needs to be some brackets to increase the rigidity of our structure for rougher weather conditions and I could not reach the back of the panel for the final 4 bolts to hold it into place. The following day, when the wind was calm in the early morning, we turned the boat, so the back was against the jetty and I could easily attach the bolts while standing on the jetty - rather than hanging above the water.

Oh yes, the holes in the frame of the solar panel did not quite align with the holes in the panel itself, so each one needed to be filed out to fit correctly. However, we are happy and on an ordinary day in Brest we are getting power from the sun - a nice 50 volts to add to our power requirements. Time will tell if it is sufficient !

What we have noted that the panel looks great and maybe even a little small for the back of our boat - should we have ordered 2 panels ?

Before After

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